It’s happened more times than you can count by this point, always without warning. You’re sat half-watching Netflix, half-scrolling through Instagram, sinking into a happy groove of distracted inattentiveness. Then, your eyes flicker back to the screen and…
Well, what you see leaves you cold all over.
Caught off-guard, you gasp out loud as your finger stabs wildly at the air above your phone. Your heart is in your throat. Your stomach is turning in unlovely somersaults. And that crisp sandwich you’d so carefully prepared for what was supposed to be a blissful hour of TV time? Utterly forgotten.
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No, it’s not a horror film or psychological thriller that’s caught you off-guard like this. Oh no. Instead, it’s an age-old episode of the Gilmore Girls, The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, or maybe even something as pure and joyful as Queer Eye.
Because, as it turns out, some of us are apparently now so used to lockdown life that all those old movies and TV shows – you know, the ones filmed before the age of face masks and social distancing – are leaving us distinctly unsettled.
“It was in deep lockdown that I first nearly yelled ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ at the TV when the characters on This Is Us hugged,” Stylist’s Chloe Gray explains.
“I get a bit jittery watching people in close proximity, greeting each other with kisses on the cheeks and passing each other drinks with their unwashed hands.”
She adds: “It’s these micro moments of intimacy that make me feel uncomfortable, and I almost wonder if we will ever go back to being so carefree with brushing past people or breathing in the direction of a stranger. If I think about it too much I spiral, though, so for now I’ll stick with shouting at the TV.”
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Chloe isn’t alone, as countless memes on Instagram and Twitter will attest. And Victoria Sanusi, quite possibly one of the only people in the world who has yet to see Friends all the way through, says she had a similar sensation when she sat down to watch the legendary sitcom for the first time during lockdown.
“Sometimes I catch myself freaking out when Ross touches Rachel, like, ‘Why is he doing that? Doesn’t he know we have social distancing rules in place?’” she tells me.
“I think my apprehension shows that I’m taking the social distancing and self-isolation guidelines very seriously.”
Megan Murray, meanwhile, says that she found herself frozen with fear while watching TV recently. She couldn’t put her finger on what was wrong, though, until her partner pointed out how weird it was to see the show’s characters interacting in a normal, non-Covid manner.
“Absolutely everything clicked into place and I realised in a second that seeing people behave in the ‘old normal’ was what I had found so unsettling,” she notes. “I don’t like that I feel like this, I don’t like that I’ve adjusted to a world where we can’t touch our friends and family so easily that I now feel strange and destabilised to see it.
“In a way, I guess it’s amazing that we humans can get used to a new situation so quickly, but it still makes me sad that my brain now sees an issue with physical intimacy.”
It’s not like this for everyone, of course. Some are able to detach from this strange ‘New Normal’ and settle into their favourite TV show, letting it wash around them like the warm waters of a particularly luxurious bubble bath.
Others, like Stylist’s Hanna Ibraheem, feel a pang of sadness when they see people living their best pre-Covid lives on screen.
“It makes me long for that life again,” she admits. “I miss being near people.”
So, will we be able to share this carefree connection with people IRL again?
Well, the UK Health Secretary has suggested that people won’t be able to hug friends or family until there is an effective vaccine or treatment for Covid-19. And, while there have been reports that a vaccine could be ready by October this year, many scientists are sceptical that one could be developed and rolled out that fast.
That being said, though, we are here to reassure you that, one day, we will hug again. One day, we will brush lips, sling arms around shoulders, sit with our foreheads touching as we gaze down at a WhatsApp message and try to decipher its meaning. We will sip from someone else’s glass or bottle without thinking. We will order nachos to share. We will sit next to strangers in the cinema, on the train, at restaurants and coffee shops. We will kiss cheeks. We will hold hands, even.
And, for a while, we will appreciate all of this far more than we ever did before, because, as is so often the case, you never truly realise how much the little things in life mean until they’re gone. But, one morning, we will wake up having forgotten about that strange time in our lives where we couldn’t touch one another, and we will take it all for granted all over again. It’s just the human way of things.
Until then, we’ll just have to live vicariously through our favourite TV shows and films. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be watching You’ve Got Mail on repeat and weeping uncontrollably. Adios.
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.